How Writing Actually Works

I realize that title sounds rather definitive.

It’s not.

Really, this is about how writing works for me. How I go from blank page to finished product.

Writing something is like building a dry stacked stone wall.

They’re called “dry stacked” because there’s no mortar in between the stones. Everything is held together by friction and gravity. 

When well done, each stone looks as though it was purpose made for the space it fills.

This, of course, doesn’t happen by accident. The stone mason’s job is to turn a pile of stones into a wall. This is accomplished by careful selection. 

Once the cornerstone is laid, the next stone to follow must make sense. And so on and so on. One after another, the mason sifts through the available stones to find the next one that fits.

There is a stone for every gap that needs filled. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of trying several stones until you find the right one.

And so, stones are your words. They come in all sizes, shapes, and weights. 

Writing is simply a matter of turning words over in your hands, feeling the shape and weight. You try it in a space. If it fits; great. If not, you try another, and another, until each word belongs as if it was always meant to go exactly where you placed it.

It takes time and is the real work of writing.

But here’s the encouraging part.

The only real difference between a master mason and a novice is the speed with which they evaluate the suitability of a given stone. 

It’s not that master masons have better stones. They’re just more efficient at sorting them.

And so too you can write. It might not happen as fast as you would like it to. But if you try enough words on for size you’ll eventually arrive at the right ones.

– Zac Smith, VC